Finally, 72 years after the U.S. dropped the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and three days later on Nagasaki, there is hope that we will see the abolition of these most deadly weapons of mass destruction, for this year on July 7 an historic treaty banning nuclear weapons like every other weapon of mass destruction was adopted at the United Nations. Recognizing and responding to the medical and humanitarian consequences of nuclear war, the world has come together and spoken.
In drafting the treaty nations acknowledged the science that proves even a “small” regional nuclear war using less than ½ percent of the global nuclear arsenals would result in the deaths of two billion people on the planet from blasts, radiation sickness, and the “nuclear autumn” famine that would follow.
Refusing to be held hostage by the nuclear nations any longer, 122 non-nuclear nations brought forth a bold new vision with the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This treaty sets a new norm of international behavior and responsibility and when ratified, enforces that nations never develop, test, produce, manufacture, acquire, possess, stockpile, transfer, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons. The treaty establishes humanitarian rights for those that have been victims of nuclear weapons or weapons testing including the right to live in an environment that has been cleared from the damage done by them. It notes that women and children are disproportionately harmed by radiation. The treaty opens for signature on September 20, and once 50 nations have signed and ratified, it becomes law 90 days later.
Nations who continue to possess and threaten the use of nuclear weapons will now be outside of international law and norms. The failed theory of nuclear deterrence will be shown for what it is, namely the greatest driver of the arms race with each step in deterrence simply setting the new benchmark which must be exceeded by adversary nations. Deterrence didn’t work during the Cold War nor does it work with North Korea or any nation. Only when the U.S. and Russia embrace the reality that individual national security isn’t possible without collective security will the rest of the world feel secure in eliminating their arsenals. Now is the time for new thinking.
The Hibakusha, survivors of the atomic bombs, have waited their entire lives for this day. Setsuko Thurlow speaking at the United Nations after the treaty’s adoption said, “I have been waiting for this day for seven decades and I am overjoyed that it has finally arrived…this is the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.” She concluded by saying, “Nuclear weapons have always been immoral, now they are also illegal.”
So let us give pause this day of remembrance and recognize the opportunity before us. Each of us has a role to play in demanding that our governments ratify this treaty. Let us begin the hard work in abolishing these weapons forever. The health and future of our children depend upon it.
Robert F. Dodge, M.D., is a practicing family physician, writes for PeaceVoice, was a citizen lobbyist to the UN in June for this treaty, and serves on the boards of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Beyond War, Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, and Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions.